AMHERST, Mass.–In the transition from high school to college, many students find it difficult to adapt to the new environment. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, two upperclassmen provide advice to incoming freshman based on their experiences with friends, classes, and dorm living.
“My freshman year, I didn’t expect to fight with my roommate. They always warn you not to room with someone from home. It really pigeon-holed me for the first couple weeks because I only would hang out with her and friends from my high school. It made it hard to meet new people and make new friends,” says Mariah McNamara, 22, a senior nutrition major at the University of Massachusetts flagship school. After her first semester she decided to live with other friends in a different dorm.
McNamara is an RA at the university who oversees a multi-year floor. She says the best place for people to go if they are struggling with the transition period is to an RA because they are well-equipped to handle clashes with roommates and other problems of dorm life.
“A lot of resident advisers [R.A.] are damaged goods. They become R.A.s because they had a tough transition into college and want to help others struggling, or they had a great experience and want to share that with others. Either way they are there to help you, especially a freshman year R.A. because they are usually more involved,” McNamara says.
Leah Rucki, 20, English major says, “Something I was pleasantly surprised with coming into college was the structure of the classes. Professors are super chill and you learn a lot. They expect you to get your work done, but they aren’t your mother constantly on your back about it. You have a lot of freedom and more is expected of you because of that.”
What they were glad they brought.
“Having a small dorm fridge is essential if you love having leftovers,” McNamara says, “I also love my wax warmer. Right now I have an apple cider wax melting in it.”
“A comfy blanket or two is incredible to have because of how cold dorms can be in the winter,” Rucki says. She also advocates bringing a rug if your dorm room has tiled floors, and simple dorm decorations to express your personal sense of style.
“A tapestry, or twinkle lights, or some cool posters can really tie an otherwise blah room together,” the English major says.
What they regretted bringing.
“There are still things I regret bringing, and I’m about halfway through my college experience. I brought a hot glue gun this year and I had every intention of using it, but I just never got around to it. My freshman year I brought a lot of auxiliary storage and ended up filling it with things I never touched. You need a lot less than you think you do,” Rucki says.
McNamara too warns against bringing too much extra storage. “I have a pull out cabinet under my desk filled with extra things. I never touch it. I also have way too many clothes I will literally never wear.”
When packing for college, think carefully about the items you choose to bring. A good rule of thumb for clothing is to lay out everything you want to bring, then subtract at least 25 percent of the pile. Space saved in your cramped living quarters means less mess and more room to move.
“I pack my clothing seasonally. I bring lighter clothes during fall semester when it is warmer and at Thanksgiving break I switch my clothes for heavier winter-wear. It saves space in my closet,” Rucki says.
Advice to newcomers.
“Be yourself, don’t change yourself because everyone else is. Don’t submerge yourself in something you don’t want to,” says Rucki. She also suggests being cautious of the random roommate selection process.
“I think people can get a good experience with a random roommate but it didn’t work for me. My freshman year roommate was polar opposite of me and it just didn’t work out. On the other hand a lot of my friends had wonderful experiences with random roommates. It’s the luck of the draw,” she says.
“Try not to hang out exclusively with people you knew in high school. When everyone is new and together in this big place, that is the time it is easiest to make friends,” McNamara says.
“Oh,” she adds, “and don’t skip class.”